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Cardinals choose Matheny as La Russa's successor

This is a 2011 photo of Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. The Cardinals have called a news conference for Monday Nov. 14, 2011 to announce the hiring of Matheny as manager. This is a 2011 photo of Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. The Cardinals have called a news conference for Monday Nov. 14, 2011 to announce the hiring of Matheny as manager. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
By R.B. Fallstrom
AP Sports Writer / November 14, 2011

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ST. LOUIS—Mike Matheny settled into Tony La Russa's desk chair in a freshly painted office minus all the knickknacks accumulated over 16 years by his predecessor. The stuffed tiger from the 2006 World Series title, the bust of TLR's favorite dog, the piles and piles of books -- all gone.

A blank slate -- just like the St. Louis Cardinals new manager, who has never filled out a lineup card in the majors.

Not that he hasn't thought about it.

"I loved spending the time I had with Tony talking about managing, and he knew that," Matheny said Monday after getting a two-year contract with a club option for a third season. "He's been advocate for a long time, someone that's been promoting me."

General manager John Mozeliak offered Matheny the job last Friday while he was in the Dominican Republic with Albert Pujols but told Matheny to say nothing until Monday.

Mozeliak envisioned Matheny as manager material when he rejoined the organization two years ago. Matheny was a special assistant in player development last year and previously had been a minor league instructor.

Mozeliak knew there'd be questions about Matheny's lack of experience but pointed out when he replaced Walt Jocketty four years ago, he, too, was unproven.

"That's something I've experienced myself, and I know what it's like going from maybe a less leadership role to one where you're thrust into it," Mozeliak said. "I think he has that skill set."

Mozeliak also believes Matheny is a good fit for this team because of its blend of veterans and youth, and because the rotation is set.

"A Matt Holliday and a Lance Berkman, they don't need to be over-managed if you will," Mozeliak said. "So I think he's going to be able to put his energy into the players that most need it, and to the team itself. That was something we factored in."

Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said Matheny is well-respected throughout baseball, and the Cardinals background doesn't hurt.

"He knows our current club and organization as well as anyone, and we feel he is the perfect one to lead us into a very bright future," DeWitt said.

As for his managing style, Matheny said he'd rely on instincts honed from his playing days.

"I believe I owe this organization to be myself," Matheny said. "I'm not here to try and clone Tony or any other manager or coach, but I believe I'm a collection of all the above."

Holliday and World Series MVP David Freese attended Monday's news conference, held in the same room where La Russa said his good-byes two weeks earlier. Both escaped via a side door without talking to reporters.

Mozeliak and DeWitt said Matheny, who won three of his four Gold Gloves with the Cardinals from 2000-04, stood out from a group of candidates that began with about 35 names in mid-August when the 67-year-old La Russa first announced his intentions. The final six included Terry Francona, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and longtime Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo.

The Cardinals expect to complete its coaching staff by the weekend, and it could include at least two holdovers from the La Russa era. Mozeliak said pitching coach Dave Duncan, who is signed for next season, should be back, and Oquendo also could return.

Mozeliak said he was in contact with La Russa during the interview process.

"I don't know if the word consulting is right," Mozeliak said. "He was someone I kept abreast of the process. I always welcome his opinion."

Matheny is the Cardinals' youngest manager since Jack Krol, also 41, in 1978.

Matheny's playing career blossomed after he signed a one-year free-agent deal to be the backup catcher in St. Louis. Though a career .239 hitter, Matheny did enough defensively to earn a starting job. Matheny was with the Giants when his career was ended by concussions in 2006. He said he's been symptom free for about 1 1/2 years.

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